Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Thanks for your interest in joining the Well-Being and Morality Lab! Here’s some information to give you a sense of whether the lab would be a good fit and what I’m looking for in a prospective graduate student.

I am an incoming assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. I am eager to recruit a graduate student to join the Well-Being and Morality Lab in Fall 2023.

About the Well-Being and Morality Lab

Most people want to live a good life. But what does that involve? From a psychological perspective, I argue that the good life involves both (1) a concern for your own personal well-being and (2) a concern for other people’s well-being. The pursuit and balance of the goals of well-being and morality are vital to a well-functioning society. Thus, broadly speaking, the Well-Being and Morality (WAM) Lab will research how people can lead fulfilling lives and balance their personal desires with other people’s needs and rights.

Prospective students should be interested in at least one of the following research areas (click on the links to learn more):

  1. Moral improvement: What’s stopping people from being more moral? What inspires people to become more moral? What kinds of interventions would make people more moral?
  2. Morality and well-being: Are moral people happier, or is there a tradeoff between well-being and morality? Do people overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits of being more moral?
  3. Social interactions and well-being: What kinds of social interactions matter for well-being? Do some kinds of social interactions matter more for some people? Which pairings of personality traits predict better social experiences?

You can also listen to this episode of the Personality Psychology Podcast to hear more about the first two lines of research.

Graduate students in the WAM Lab can expect to:

  1. Be trained as hybrid social-personality psychologists;
  2. Use a variety of naturalistic, ecologically-valid methods (e.g., informant reports, experience sampling, the Electronically Activated Recorder, daily life interventions);
  3. Receive training in advanced statistical techniques (e.g., multilevel modeling, structural equation modeling, response surface analysis), R and Mplus, and the latest open science practices;
  4. Think deeply about issues of measurement (e.g., how can we best measure morality?) and validity;
  5. Have the freedom to design your own studies, as well as contribute to larger data collections and use existing rich, multi-method datasets.

Two Options for Joining the Lab

I will be a faculty mentor for the graduate programs in (1) Psychological & Brain Sciences and (2) Computational & Data Sciences.

PhD in Psychological & Brain Sciences

If you are accepted into the program, you would be admitted directly into my lab. You can learn more about the graduate program here and read about the application process here. The application deadline is December 1st, 2022.

PhD in Computational & Data Sciences

This is a great opportunity for students who are seeking more intensive training in data science methods, while acquiring domain expertise in psychology. After rotations in Year 1, you may choose to work with me as your faculty mentor. I’d be especially excited to work with a student who is interested in the personality compatibility questions I outline here, or more generally, in using machine learning methods to develop personalized well-being interventions. You can learn more about the graduate program here and read about the application process here. The application deadline is December 15, 2022.

Selection Criteria

Here are some of the key areas I will be focusing on when reviewing applications, and examples of how you might demonstrate these capabilities.

Criterion Example Evidence
Has research interests in well-being, morality, or social interactions. You are able to provide a compelling narrative in the statement of purpose of how you came to become interested in this topic, and can provide examples of research questions you might be interested in investigating in graduate school.
Is resourceful and perseverant in the face of challenges. Provide examples of overcoming obstacles, finding alternative strategies/resources, and sticking with it (e.g., when learning difficult concepts, working on a challenging project, or pursuing goals in your personal life).
Is interested in learning and applying advanced quantitative techniques to studying psychological phenomena. Taking and doing well in undergraduate statistics, math, or computer science classes is a good indicator.
Has strong reasoning and writing skills. Strong writing samples that are demonstrably your own work (i.e., not written in large part by an advisor). A publication or honors thesis would be helpful but not necessary; other writing samples could include a lab report, literature review, or other class paper.
Values collegiality and will be a helpful and cooperative labmate. Evidence might include specific examples in letters of recommendation (e.g., of how you have helped and supported others in your previous labs), or other examples of a demonstrated commitment to getting along with and being of service to others.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are you considering applications from international students?

Yes. International students will not be eligible for some of the fellowships that are available to U.S. citizens (e.g., the NSF GRFP), but there will still be funding available if you are admitted.

2. I am applying for the Clinical Science program, but your research seems like a good fit with my interests. Can you be my primary research advisor?

It would most likely be more helpful to you if your primary advisor is a trained clinical psychologist (which I am not). However, I am open to working with (e.g., co-advising or informally mentoring) students who are admitted into the Clinical Science area.

3. Are GRE scores required?

Our department has adopted a policy of not requiring GRE scores. This means we will not consider GRE scores when making admission decisions.

4. What is the stipend level at WashU?

WashU recently increased their graduate student stipend to >$34,000 per year for PhD programs across the College of Arts and Sciences. This generous stipend, combined with the relatively low cost of living in St. Louis, makes it likely that you will be financially comfortable as a graduate student at WashU.

5. I have more questions. Can we discuss further over email, phone, or Zoom?

If you have quick clarification questions, feel free to email me at I’m also happy to chat over the phone if you need more information (e.g., about how well our research interests align) to decide whether to apply. You can schedule a phone call by emailing me. I welcome your inquiries, but also look forward to carefully considering your application whether or not you get in touch beforehand!

Jessie Sun
Jessie Sun
Assistant Professor

My research interests include well-being, moral psychology, social interactions, and personality.